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Multifaith Voices for Peace And Justice Joins National Religious Campaign Against Torture

Original post made by Craig Wiesner, another community, on Jun 5, 2006

This afternoon (June 5th) the Los Angeles Times reported that the Pentagon's new field manual on detainee handling will not include the Geneva Convention language banning "degrading and humiliating" treatement. Not only would this ignore the rules of the Geneva Convention, but it also disregards legislation recently passed in the Congress (an amendment by Senator McCain).

The following is an editorial that Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice, a Bay Area interfaith peace organization, is sending to local newspapers.

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Multifaith Voices For Peace and Justice Joins a National Religious Campaign Against Torture

Imagine if one of your children, your husband or wife, your mother or father, sister or brother were dragged from your home in the dark of night, or snatched from the streets in the light of day, a hood placed over the head, flown to a far-off land, body stripped naked and thrown on the concrete floor of a bare cell. Day after day, loud music, bright lights, snarling dogs and endless interrogations make sleep impossible and waking hours a living hell. Temperatures alternate between hellish heat and freezing cold. Imagine his head held under a soaking towel, water poured over the towel and dripping into the covered nose and mouth, so much water seeping through until it felt like drowning. Imagine one day they remove the hood, so she can witness what appears to be the gang rape of another detainee. Later, a female guard walks into the cell, removes the hood again. The guard puts her hand into her own pants, pulls her hand out and smears what feels and smells like menstrual blood on the prisoner's face. Imagine your loved one sobbing alone in that cell, no idea if or when this ordeal will end, no idea if anyone outside the walls of this prison knows she is even alive. Weeks, months, even years go by, endless interrogation yielding nothing for there is nothing to yield, despite shackled hands and feet, a body chained in excruciating positions for hours at a time, skin smeared with excrement. Dignity and human kindness – are mere memories of the past.

Though we can not imagine many people in our community supporting such treatment, the President of the United States and his administration have approved each and every one of those acts as acceptable interrogation techniques. Even after Congress recently passed legislation banning such behavior, President Bush issued a carefully worded signing statement (commentary) indicating that he believes that as Commander in Chief, he is not constitutionally bound by that legislation.

As people of faith, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Unitarian Universalists, we are called to love every child, every human being who is part of God's holy creation. When any person is treated in a cruel, inhumane, or degrading way, it is as though such treatment were rendered against all of humanity. Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice, a Bay Area interfaith peace organization, has joined with religious leaders across the United States to declare a National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

The declaration states that torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions hold dear. It degrades everyone involved – policy makers, perpetrators, and victims. It contradicts our nation's most cherished ideals. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable.

In joining this National Religious Campaign Against Torture, we urge the president to obey the will of Congress and the people of the United States. Specifically, we urge President Bush to remove all ambiguities by prohibiting:

* Exemptions from the human rights standards established by Congress or by treaty through international law for any arm of our government;

* The practice of extraordinary rendition, whereby suspects are apprehended and flown to countries that use torture as a means of interrogation;

* Any disconnection of "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" from the ban against "torture;"

* The existence of secret U.S. prisons around the world; and
Any denial of Red Cross access to detainees held by our government overseas.

We also call for an independent investigation of the severe human rights abuses at U.S. installations like Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan.

It saddens us that we even need to issue a declaration of this nature, to our own government here in the United States. Yet we must. Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the very soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed?

Let America abolish torture now – without exceptions.


ABOUT MULTIFAITH VOICES FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE

Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice is a Bay Area interfaith peace organization that comes together from more than 36 diverse faith communities and traditions to put our convictions into action by saying NO to war and YES to peace and justice.

For more information, including comprehensive documentation of current U.S. policies on torture, please visit www.multifaithpeace.org

ABOUT THE NATIONAL RELIGIOUS CAMPAIGN AGAINST TORTURE

As men and women of faith and conscience, we are joined together on a non-partisan basis in profound opposition to torture and cruel and inhuman practices by anyone for any purpose. As United States-based organizations, we feel particular responsibility for the abusive practices being utilized by the United States government today. The United States has historically been a leader in outlawing these practices. The ever-increasing evidence, however, makes it all too clear that current grim abuses are not isolated incidents, but rather constitute a widespread pattern.

Although our beliefs are rooted in many different religions, and although we worship in different ways and in different languages, we stand firmly united and unswerving on this crucial moral issue. Together we will work for the immediate cessation of torture by the United States, whether direct or by proxy, within our territory or abroad. We reject all proffered justifications and distorted definitions. Our condemnation of torture is not based on any political opinion or on the laws or treaties of any nations. Rather, we are guided by a higher law that serves as a compass for all of humanity. Further information can be found at Web Link

Comments (7)

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Posted by Bob Holmgren
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 6, 2006 at 12:18 am

Degrading and humiliating treatment isn't torture. Otherwise they'd call it torture. Defending the country is best left to those with a stomach to do what's sometimes necessary. Writing multi-faith pacifist proposals might well be a healthy outlet for 'sensitive' individuals who might not notice their relative safety and how it came about.


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Posted by Craig Wiesner
a resident of another community
on Jun 7, 2006 at 12:05 pm

I doubt anyone would say that John McCain doesn't have the stomach to do what's right to protect this country. Nor would most people call him 'sensitive.'

Degrading treatment can be torture, and an environment which condones or encourages degrading treatment will devolve into torture. The law is clear. Such treatment is illegal. Here's the text of the LAW Senator McCain wrote (and despite the so-called signing statement, the President of the United States is obligated to carry out):

PROHIBITION ON CRUEL, INHUMAN, OR DEGRADING TREATMENT OR PUNISHMENT OF PERSONS UNDER CUSTODY OR CONTROL OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.

* (a) IN GENERAL.--No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

* (b) CONSTRUCTION.--Nothing in this section shall be construed to impose any geographical limitation on the applicability of the prohibition against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment under this section.

* (c) LIMITATION OF SUPERSEDER.--The provisions of this section shall not be superseded, except by a provision of law enacted after the date of the enactment of this Act which specifically repeals, modifies, or supersedes the provisions of this section.

* (d) CRUEL, INHUMAN, OR DEGRADING TREATMENT OR PUNISHMENT DEFINED.--In this section, the term ''cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment'' means the cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment or punishment prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, as defined in the United States Reservations, Declarations and Understandings to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment done at New York, December 10, 1984.


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Posted by Eric Stietzel
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 9, 2006 at 10:51 pm

Bob Holmgren points out, "Degrading and humiliating treatment isn't torture." I'll grant that although the line might be a bit fine at times. However degrading and humiliating treatment is unquestionaably degrading and humiliating treatment, and like torture, their effectiveness at extracting information is probably inversely proportional to the value of the information extracted. Of course, there's no way to know if if the information garnered is accurate as the person may be lying deliberately or saying anything that comes to mind just to make the discomfort --> agony stop. That's why there are martyrs in every cause.

Perhaps Mr. Holmgren has heard of Nathan Hale who is supposed to have said, in 1776, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." I'm not at all sure he got to say more than "I only regret that I have but one life to l" before the British noose tightened around his neck, but I am sure that he would not have talked had he been tortured. In 1963, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc immolated himself in downtown Saigon to protest the repressive Diem regime which was supported by the United States, Web Link. The pictures of his self-sacrifice was the beginning of the end for American public support for that mistaken war effort. Does anyone believe degrading treatment, humiliation, or even torture would make a person like Thich Quan Duc reveal anything he didn't want to? Similar things can be said of Christian Martyrs. To the extent that we degrade, humiliate, or torture captives in Iraq, we enrage their friends and relatives and risk creating martyrs to the most extreme forms of Islam. This is not, I imagine, something to be desired by even the least sensitive Americans.

Mr. Holmgren also suggests, "Writing multi-faith pacifist proposals might well be a healthy outlet for 'sensitive' individuals who might not notice their relative safety and how it came about." Well although I am a pacifist, not everyone in Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice is, and certainly John McCain is not. Being opposed to torture and/or demeaning and humiliating treatment does not a pacifist make.

As for sensitivity or lack thereof, I would also like to suggest that Mr. Holmgren undertake a history of the use of demeaning and humiliating treatment and perhaps torture by soldiers (and police?) in the United States with evidence of their effectiveness together with justifications by philosophers, statesmen, and religious leaders who are not "'sensitive' individuals who might not notice their relative safety and how it came about."

Compassion towards all is something I strive for. It is sometimes very hard to attain, but I do try. I just did a web search and found a site with quotations from many sources, not just my own Buddhist and Humanist inclinations, Web Link. Here are two I found particularly appropriate to the topic.

A superior being does not render evil for evil; this is a maxim one should observe; the ornament of virtuous persons is their conduct. One should never harm the wicked or the good or even criminals meriting death. A noble soul will ever exercise compassion even towards those who enjoy injuring others or those of cruel deeds when they are actually committing them--for who is without fault?
Hinduism. Ramayana, Yuddha Kanda 115

According to Anas ibn Malik, the Prophet said, "Help your brother whether he is oppressor or oppressed."

According to Anas, after the Messenger of God said, "Help your brother whether he is oppressor or oppressed," Anas replied to him, "O Messenger of God, a man who is oppressed I am ready to help, but how does one help an oppressor?" "By hindering him doing wrong," he said.
Islam. Hadith of Bukhari

By the way, we all know that people can be pushed past the breaking point which is different for different people. People who cannot act intentionally cannot torture or demean or humiliate others, now can they?

I would rather die than have my life saved because someone else was tortured. What is the point of living if I become worse than my enemy?


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Posted by Mac
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 11, 2006 at 12:08 am

I don't like the idea of people being tortured or degraded under the flag of the United States. In fact, it makes my stomach turn. I don't think its an activity that should be condoned.
If its carried out simply for punitive reasons, then I'm completely against it. At that point, we are as bad or worse than our enemies.
However, if it could be shown that certain forms of torture or degredation would yield life-saving information, I do wonder how many of us would really sacrifice our lives or the lives of our children rather than allowing that to be carried out. If you really imagine yourself or your children horrifically blown to bits by a suicide bomber, or beheaded, or some other horrible fate, and that could be prevented by torturing someone who knew how to stop it, would you still be against it?
Its fairly easy to sit here in peaceful Palo Alto, and say that you would "rather die than have your life saved because someone else was tortured," but much more difficult to make that decision if your life or your children's life were really on the line.

I know I wouldn't like it, or be able to sleep welll afterwards, but I think I would want them to do it. I do think there should be a great deal of limits and oversight, and it should be an absolute last resort where there appears to be a high likelyhood that a subject is witholding critical life-saving information. Life is never that cut and dry, however, and unfortunately, the individuals carrying out the torture would probably have varying degrees of definitions for those terms.
Ultimately, its a pretty crummy situation any way you look at it. I would be pretty suspicious of someone who thinks torturing people is a great idea, but then again, in a limited set of circumstances, it might be the only viable option if you want to survive.


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Posted by Craig Wiesner
a resident of another community
on Jun 11, 2006 at 6:33 am

Mac raises a point that many have raised over the years. What would you do if a child was buried under ground, only an hour of oxegyn left, and the person you're holding can tell you where the child is? Or what if a nuclear bomb is ticking, about to go off in Chicago, and you are positive that the person you're holding knows where it is? (Someone recently came up with the best answer I've seen, which I wish I could attribute, but know that my response below is based on someone else's wonderful thought.)

Would the fact that torture is illegal stop you from doing whatever it took to get the information? If torture stays illegal, a person who was convinced that he or she had to take extraordinary measures would be willing also to make the sacrifice of facing judgement for his actions.

Once the busload of children is found, kids alive, or the nuke is disabled, society will decide whether the act of civil disobedience committed by the policeman or soldier should be punished or forgiven.

What we can't do, as a civilized society and a shining beacon of freedom to the world, is make such treatment (degrading, humiliating, torture) a no-brainer. It should stay illegal. It is illegal. We've signed treaties and our Congress has passed US laws against it. We are a nation of laws, and those are the laws.


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Posted by Mac
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 11, 2006 at 1:18 pm

Craig -

Sounds like an episode of "24!" In fact, Jack Bauer has tortured people - usually by blowing their kneecaps off, and he himself has been tortured. Now that he's covertly been taken prisoner of the PRC, I shutter to think what's happening to him now. Poor guy.

That is a wise answer, though. I think it acknowleges that we might be forced into a horrible situation where torture might be the lesser of two evils, but its use should never be made into some acceptable policy.

It does need to be decided what sort of interogation techniques can be used. How far can you go without it being torture? Being a parent of a 4 day old boy, I'm pretty familiar with sleep depravation. Its not too fun, but I wouldn't call it torture. How many hours without sleep can you push someone before it becomes cruel?

I would feel prouder of us as a nation if we erred on the side of good treatment, hoping that our captives realize we are not the monsters they've been led to believe we are.


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Posted by Jean E. Barker
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 14, 2006 at 1:58 pm

I am so deeply saddened as I read how people treat eachother through torture under any circumstances. It comes to me that such of us who do this are also living in a tortured society. We can learn that we have a choice to live in loving ways. It is the only hope for the future that we teach our children how to live non-violently. Our leaders will have no future as we also will not, if such violent practices continue. We are called to change our ways.


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